We grieve for George Floyd’s family and write to express our deep support for all who stand for justice in his case and in so many others. We have a three-part mission at the Center for Science and Justice: to do work that addresses accuracy, risk, and needs in the justice system. These heartbreaking current events challenge us, urgently, to do everything that we can to live up to that mission.
Accuracy: We are all innocent until proven guilty. Yet Mr. Floyd was presumed guilty and killed. Summary justice occurs on our streets and in our courtrooms. Structural racial bias has distorted everything in the criminal system, from arrest, through convictions, and sentencing. We can and do document racial disparities as lawyers and as researchers. But action is needed to break down these structures.
Risk: Over-policing of petty economic crimes led to Mr. Floyd’s death, just like that of Eric Garner and so many others. Being accused of buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill should not be a death sentence. It should not even result in an arrest. We can and do document this lack of proportionality as lawyers and as researchers. But action is needed to restore proportionality to our system.
Needs: Rather than controlling communities through police presence, we should meet their need for true public safety, including prosperity, public health, and fair treatment. Police use of force is broken in the U.S., as is the racially biased system of arrest, over-incarceration, and over-punishment on which it rests. We can and do document this as lawyers and as researchers. But action is needed to bring about lasting reforms.
As lawyers and researchers we hope to play a part in addressing these deep injustices. We hope that many others, including our courageous students, partner organizations, colleagues, and friends, will be moved to keep pushing to change in the days ahead.